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vt.Buzz ~ a political blog

Political notes from Free Press staff writers Terri Hallenbeck, Sam Hemingway and Nancy Remsen



Not a moment too soon

The Legislature is headed into a week-long hiatus for town meeting week. Like school vacations used to feel - it comes not a moment too soon.

As they leave, the Department of Public Service and the Senate Finance Committee are in a kind of standoff. The department won't send anyone to testify (the commissioner is in Colorado, anyway, I'm told) because the commissioner is not satisfied with the Senate's response to the machine-gun incident.

Sen. Mark MacDonald, the Orange County Democrat, told Public Service department employee Sarah Hofmann that in China, officials are lined up and shot for not providing information. He asked who would be shot here if that were the ways things were done. At the time, Hofmann smoothly suggested he could shoot her and those in the room issued a nervous laughter.

Afterward, MacDonald apologized to Hofmann, to the committee and eventually to the full Senate. "Last week in committee I made some remarks my mother wouldn't be happy with," he said. He still fuming, though, about information he says legislators haven't been told regarding agreements between the state and Vermont Yankee.

The exchange prompted a letter from Commissioner David O'Brien suggesting Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin switch MacDonald to a different committee. Shumlin laughed when I asked him if that was likely. Committee Chairwoman Ann Cummings said one DPS employee told her he/she wasn't permitted to come before Cummings' committee this week as a result.

Will the dust have settled when they return? On the committee's schedule that week: Vermont Yankee's corporate restructuring.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Church Street with Chelsea

You can stroll Church Street with Chelsea at 9:30 a.m. or catch her at an event at the Dudley Davis center at UVM (Atrium 5 - that building's got so many atriums they lose count after a while) at 10:30 a.m. Friday.

Given her reluctance to talk to the media, it'll be up to you members of the public to see if you can ask her anything and get her to answer.

So have at it - what do you want to ask Chelsea?

- Terri Hallenbeck


Governor poll

Didn't catch the TV news last night, but it's been brought to my attention that WCAX polled on the gubernatorial election.

The results:

53 percent say they support Douglas-- 22 percent would vote for Democrat Peter
Galbraith-- and 15 percent for Progressive Anthony Pollina. 10 percent are still

"This is a strong position for an incumbent governor to be in,"
says Middlebury College Political Scientist Eric Davis.

interesting Davis says, is that Democrat Peter Galbraith leads Progressive
Anthony Pollina by 7 percentage points-- even though Galbraith is not officially
in the race yet.

"What these numbers say to me is there is not a great
deal of enthusiasm among Democrats to have Anthony Pollina be the only one
running against Jim Douglas this fall," says Davis.
"In some ways you might
argue that people like an underdog who is willing to tell them the truth,"
Pollina said at a press conference this week.

The Vermont Democratic Party is taking that as good news.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Surrogate Clinton

Indeed it does look as though the Vermont primary will matter. Not maybe as much as the Texas and Ohio primaries, but at least Vermonters will not be casting their ballots long after the thing was decided.

Which brings Chelsea Clinton to town. She'll be campaigning for her mother here on Friday. At the University of Vermont, is what I hear, but the details haven't been provided.

Chelsea, in her previous appearances elsewhere, has been willing to stand up at a podium and work the crowd but not speak to the media.



Technology = grand

Been trying to post a new blog item. It won't let me. That, and other computer problems today, are not making for happy times.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Pollina at the Statehouse

The Pollina-mobile and Progressive gubernatorial candidate Anthony Pollina made a visit to the Statehouse today.

The van, parked throughout the day at the end of Aiken Ave. near State Street, blared its bright yellow existence to passersby with the message mounted on top: "We can do better. Pollina Governor '08."

Pollina, standing inside the Statehouse in front of media mics, sought to deliver that message too. He took Republican Gov. Jim Douglas to task for his 2009 proposed budget.

Pollina sounded like a spitting verbal image of legislative Democratic leaders on the governor's budget.

He criticized cuts to subsidized health care premiums, to housing/land conservation and to hospitals. He said the governor has failed to fund road and bridge repairs and state police, and has failed to work with legislators on making tough decisions about the budget.

He suggested using money generated from the governor's proposed elimination of a capital gain exemption to pay for roads and bridges and state police.

All these ideas have emanated from the mouths of legislators in recent weeks.

Perhaps Pollina did that intentionally. If he sounds like a Democrat, the reasoning might go, perhaps Democrats will see him as their candidate and vote for him. When I asked him why his ideas sounded so much like theirs, his answer indicated he wanted to be the answer to their frustrations with Douglas:

"There’s one component that’s missing in the dynamic right now, which is a governor who shares a commitment that the Legislature has for a budget that works for Vermonters. If we just change the occupant in that office across the hall this process will be different."

As for the Pollina-mobile, it's a Chevy van with a big sign attached. Douglas spokesman Jason Gibbs wondered about its greenhouse gas emissions compared to the governor's car. He wanted to compare it to the governor's own Dodge Neon, but let's face reality - the governor is driven everywhere by state police in a Chevy Impala.

I don't know about overall greenhouse gas emissions, but the van is listed as getting an average of 15 mpg and the Impala 22 mpg. Before Pollina trades the van in, we should note that the last candidate to take Douglas on drove a Toyota Prius hybrid. It did not ensure victory.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Poll parade

Another day, another poll of Vermont presidential primary voters.

Today's news is that Rasmussen Reports is reporting that Barack Obama has a 24 point lead in Vermont over Hillary Clinton with six days to go before Tuesday's Democratic presidential primary. Obama had 57 percent and Clinton 33 percent.

The poll finding was based on interviews conducted on Sunday with 1,013 likely Democratic primary voters in Vermont. Reaching that many "likely voters" at home on what was a beautiful winter day is a feat all by itself, but I'm digressing.

The numbers aren't much different than what American Research Group found out last week, when it gave Obama a 26 point lead over Clinton. We hear WCAX is going to drop its poll on the contest on tonight's news.

What's most interesting in the Rasmussen results is what Vermonter Dem voters listed as their number one issue. Bulletin: It's the economy, stupid, not the war in Iraq.

Also worth chewing on: The poll found that Obama was deemed eminently more electable in the fall than Clinton. Check it out by clicking HERE. By the way, it looks like Rasmussen didn't bother doing a poll for the state's GOP primary. ARG did, and it had McCain up by 62 points over Paul, and a couple more over Huckabee.

-- Sam Hemingway



Dialing for votes

My phone rang a few minutes ago. Madeleine Kunin voice was on the other end. For a second or two I thought it really was Madeleine Kunin. That's the way things are here in Vermont. The phone rings and sometimes it's the governor or a former governor, a senator or a former senator.

Alas, though, it was Kunin's taped voice, a robo-call, urging me to vote for Hillary Clinton in the March 4 primary.

After she made her pitch for Clinton, Kunin suggested I press 1 if I was planning to join her in voting for Clinton, or 2 if I was still undecided. There was no option 3 or 4.

I presume if I had pressed 1, I'd be sent off to the sign-her-up-for-campaigning desk. If I had pressed 2, I'd have been sent to the needs-further-educating desk, but it felt a little like that Seinfeld episode in which Kramer runs Movie Phone. After urging people to push 1 for this movie, 2 for that, he says in exasperation, "Why don't you just tell me what movie you want to see?"

I was waiting for Kunin's voice to ask, "Why don't you just tell me who you're voting for?"

- Terri Hallenbeck


Whose house is a very fine house?

The Legislature isn't even in town (it being Monday) and the governor isn't even in the state (he being off in D.C. being elected chairman of the Coalition of Northeastern Governors), but the two entities are still managing to squabble via news releases.

Today's topic: The housing bill that is days, an maybe even more than a few days, from from a floor vote in the House. It is one of many bills torrenting toward the chute as legislators try to meet the March 14 "cross-over" deadline for bills to cross to the other chamber.

Don't be surprised if this is the bill that sits there surrounded by red lights and ambulances at the end of the session.

Is it one of those issues upon which people of differing political philosophies just cannot agree, or is there a solution that can take all points of view into consideration? You tell me.

First, from the governor, (sent via e-mail with one of those red exclamation points that marks it as high importance):

Governor Jim Douglas today said he is increasingly concerned that
Vermonters will not see meaningful housing legislation this year because the
House Democrat majority is “on the wrong track.”

“The House Democrat (did he really leave the -ic off? I guess so)
leadership is off on the wrong track. In this case, they are poised to
pass a bill that severely restricts where new homes can be built, adds costly
and time consuming regulations, restricts the amount of equity that homeowners
can get when they sell their home, and adds a cumbersome, expensive state
inspection program to duplicate work already being done by capable local
officials,” the Governor said. “Unfortunately, this majority does not
appreciate the fact that home construction can create hundreds of new jobs and
stimulate economic growth.”

Governor Douglas said Vermonters know
that now is a good time to put homeownership within reach of more working
families. “The majority controlling our House of Representatives
apparently does not agree,” Douglas continued.

To put
homeownership within reach of more working families—and to provide a significant
boost to our economy—Governor Douglas proposed the New Neighborhoods
initiative. The New Neighborhoods initiative streamlines the regulatory
systems, creates incentives for communities to approve new construction and
complements the existing low income housing network. Revised provisions of
this initiative address concerns heard last year from the Legislature—a clear
indication of Douglas’ interest in progress on this economic development issue.

“I’ve also offered an Urban Homestead proposal,”
Douglas said. “All throughout Vermont’s downtowns there are buildings with
thriving commercial space on the first floor but underutilized space on the
upper floors.” By providing tax incentives, Douglas wants to encourage
first-time homeowners to invest in these spaces—helping to significantly
increase the availability of affordable homes and economic growth in our
downtowns and village centers.


Then a few hours later, from the speaker's office:

I am disappointed that the Governor continues to mischaracterize the debate
over how best to improve access to affordable housing. H.863, An Act
Relating to Creation and Preservation of Affordable Housing and Smart Growth
Development, demonstrates the legislature’s commitment to affordable and safe
housing for all Vermonters.

H.863 allows for the creation of thousands of units of affordable housing
for working Vermonters and protects Vermonters who currently reside in unsafe or
unhealthy conditions. The bill takes these initiatives in ways that are
consistent with Vermonters’ community values.

In contrast, the Governor’s New Neighborhood initiative focuses on fairly
high value homes, radically weakens Act 250 without regard to smart growth, and
diverts taxes intended for schools to incentives for housing development – a
proposal that would inevitable lead to higher property taxes.

To toss aside Act 250 in as wholesale a manner as the Governor proposes
would be detrimental to Vermont’s economy and landscape and would seriously
compromise a law that has served Vermont well for three decades.

Adding fiscal insult to policy injury, Douglas’ budget diverts $6million
from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, a shortfall that would result
in 150 fewer affordable homes. As Sarah Carpenter, Director of the Vermont
Housing Finance Agency has said, “There is no single cause of the housing
affordability problem, and so there is no single solution. We need all the
tools available to make sure every Vermonter … has a safe, decent and affordable
place to call home.”
The legislature recognizes this in H.863’s multi-faceted approach to
housing creation and preservation.

H.863 would ease permit restrictions in qualifying Vermont Neighborhoods,
while retaining a focus on housing growth in village centers, downtowns and
growth centers. In order to qualify, 20% of the proposed development must
include at least moderately affordable homes.


I urge Governor Douglas to join with the legislature to work in a
constructive way towards safe and affordable Vermont Neighborhood housing.

Is there a solution?

- Terri Hallenbeck


Dodd and the Vt. Dems

Chris Dodd, the erstwhile Democratic presidential aspirant and five-term senator from Connecticut, will be the keynote speaker at the Vermont Democrats' annual David Curtis Leadership Awards (fundraising) dinner at the Hilton in Burlington on April 25.

Word has it that fellow Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy was the one who landed Dodd's appearance at the dinner, regarded as the biggest fundraising event of the year for the state party assuming the Dems' eventual presidential nominee or veep nominee, whoever he or she turns out to be.

Speaking of the presidential sweepstakes, the Obama folks announced today that they've opened up three more campaign offices in Vermont, including a second one in Burlington. That means the Obama brigade has seven campaign offices in the Green Mountain State. I think that's a record for any candidate who has ever competed in the state's fledgling, late-reaking presidential primary.

-- Sam Hemingway

bringing to seven the number of storefronts the Obama



Rep. David Clark dies

Rep. David Clark, the tall, quiet Republican from St. Johnsbury, died Thursday. Clark, 85, had been hospitalized with congestive heart failure the last weeks.

His death had the House Government Operations Committee reeling Friday. Just a month ago, the committee lost Rep. Cola Hudson, R-Lyndon. With their departures went 60 years of institutional knowledge on local government, said Rep. Ken Atkins, D-Winooski.

Clark was someone few people knew well, Atkins said, but he had the respect of everyone.

- Terri Hallenbeck



It's getting hot under the dome

The weather may be chilly outside, but partisan politics are heating up in the Statehouse.

For example, Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin is beating his drum about Gov. Jim Douglas following in the late Gov. Richard Snelling's footsteps. Shumlin wants Douglas to sit down with Democratic leadership in the Legislature and look for solutions to this year's financial challenges. He says he's made this request repeatedly, but gets no response.

Shumlin says he talked with Douglas this week (they touch base every week) about one of the tough choices that the governor's budget poses. According to Shumlin's account of the conversation, he observed that Douglas had "assured us that his close friendship with President Bush" would help pave the way for a waiver for the Catamount Health plan for uninsured Vermonters. The state wanted to be able to use some of its federal allotment to cover uninsured Vermonters with incomes between 200 and 300 percent of poverty. The federal government rejected the waiver request, so now the state has to pay the full cost of that coverage. In next year's budget, that will be $7.5 million.

Stay with me here. Shumlin said he made the point that the Douglas budget covers the $7.5 million expense, but proposes to restore previously higher health insurance premiums to Vermonters with lower incomes to raise $5.4 million. "I was trying to explain the tough choices for Democrats," Shumlin said.

Secretary of Administration Mike Smith says that in the course of thise conversation, Shumlin proposed eliminating coverage or at least the subsidy for uninsured Vermonters with incomes between 200 and 300 percent of poverty. Smith said Douglas rejected the idea on the spot.

Shumlin said he never made such a suggestion.

This discussion took place at a private meeting, but Thursday, the Douglas administration released a letter Smith sent to Shumlin saying the governor wouldn't go along with Shumlin's plan to shrink Catamount.

Now the two are disputing each other's accounts of the meeting.

Yikes. There are weeks left in this session and the sand is already flying.

-- Nancy Remsen


Obama ads

To be fair, I want to share some links for Obama TV ads. I don't see much television, so I didn't know he was already running ads in Vermont. Now I do.

President: http://vt.barackobama.com/vt_president
Moment: http://vt.barackobama.com/vt_moment
Join: http://vt.barackobama.com/vt_join

-- Nancy Remsen



Jim and John

Gov. Jim Douglas and Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain don't agree on milk policy. And they aren't in lock step on troop withdrawal/extended surge in Iraq.

Today at the governor's press conference, reporters explored with Douglas a couple of other areas -- just to get a sense of the depth of Douglas' support for McCain's views.

Global warming: Douglas said, "He has talked about it in very general terms." That, Douglas seemed to be suggesting, was better than not talking about it at all.

Expanded health care coverage for kids: Douglas said didn't know how McCain felt about that idea. It might be worth checking out since the Bush administration opposed any expansion and ended up in a wrestling match with Congress and many governors last fall over his unwaivering stance. Douglas repeated his position today -- that the federally funded State Children's Health Insurance Program ought to be expanded.

Douglas said a few differences didn't weaken his support for McCain. People never agree on everything, he said.

-- Nancy Remsen


clinton on TV in VT

As part of Hillary Clinton's push to win Vermont, her campaign will air an ad. Here's the link.

And here's the transcript, in case you are in a hurry to see her message.

Clinton: In this troubled economy…

How can so many millions of people…

…simply not be heard?

Well, I hear you.

You’re asking for healthcare that covers everyone.

Protection from losing your home

You would like to fill your tank without draining your wallet

And give your kids the future they deserve

If I am your president, I will bring more than 35 years of experience to the White House.

I will bring your voice.

Announcer: It’s about People.

Clinton: I’m Hillary Clinton and I approve this message.

-- Nancy Remsen


Waiting for Gore

Does the prospect of the Democrats going all the way to the convention without knowing who their nominee is going to be have you staying awake at night?

If so, you might want to get in touch with Farrell S. Seiler of St. Johnsbury. He's a retired small businessman and wind energy consultant. He's also someone who worked for a Draft Gore group during the New Hampshire Primary and still thinks the former Veep is the best shot the Dems have at regaining the White House this year.

Presently, the retired Seiler is the Vermont coordinator for a Draft Gore movement. He said Gore fans around the country are waiting to see what happens on March 4 and beyond before making a case that the party should turn to Gore, the one guy he says everybody in the party likes and nobody hates.

"Our position is that Obama and Clinton will have so beaten each other up by the time the primaries are over that it's going to make it easier for the Republicans to win in the fall," Seiler told me on Wednesday. "We may need to reach into our bench and draft the individual who has the most experience of anyone, is respected on the world stage and would be ready on Day 1 to take the reins of the presidency."

Toward that end, Seiler sent out a polished fundraising letter to 500 Vermonters earlier this month in hopes of stirring up a write-in effort for the March 4 primary. He's since decided to throttle back on that effort and is returning the money he raised after deciding Vermont isn't the place for the Draft Gore movement to make its stand.

Instead, he argues that time will come if the situation is still unresolved after the April 22 Pennsylvania primary. He thinks West Virginia's May13 primary might be the time to show the Gore flag.

It's not as crazy a thought as you might think. I checked it out and just four months ago, Gore came in second in a CBS poll of likely Democratic primary voters with 32 percent, behind Clinton's 37 percent and way ahead of Obama's 16 percent. And Gore wasn't a candidate at the time, or even acting like one.

Sure, the chances of this playing out the way Seiler sees it are slim, but the year has already had a number of odd turns. Just ask John McCain. Or Rudy Giuliani. Or Hillary Clinton.

-- Sam Hemingway



Hillary's team

House Speaker Gaye Symington, D-Jericho, has made no secret of her support for Hillary Clinton. Turns out she's co-chair of the Clinton campaign in Vermont with former Gov. Madeleine Kunin.

Tomorrow they will unveil what the campaign has been or will do in Vermont over the next couple of weeks to try to put Vermont in Hillary's column rather than Barack Obama's.

Rep. Kathy Keenan, D-St. Albans, will participate in the event/conference call to explain the grassroots campaign for Clinton that has been organized in the northern part of the state.

Is this eleventh hour effort for Clinton going to work? Who is going to do the heavy lifting? Symington and Keenan have day jobs for most of the next two weeks at the Statehouse.

Momentum was already building for Obama, with a number of other high profile Democrats taking up his cause weeks ago. The list includes Sen. Patrick Leahy, Treasurer Jeb Spaulding, Attorney General Bill Sorrell, and, in the Statehouse, Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin, D-Windham. Obama even has the state's ice cream men -- Ben and Jerry.

-- Nancy Remsen


Dean on superdelegates

It's looking more and more like uncommitted Democratic Party superdelegates around the country will be the ones to decide who wins the party's tight presidential nomination contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Vermont has seven of these annointed souls and we've already reported that six of them are spoken for: Five for Obama and one for Clinton. That leaves just one uncommitted Vermont superdelegate, and that person happens to be Howard Dean, our former governor, a 2004 presidential aspirant and presently chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Dean is uncommitted for a reason: As chairman, he's got to stay neutral, let the primary season play itself out and hope either Obama or Clinton gets enough delegates to claim the nomination and avoid having the battle drag all the way to the party's national convention. If that happens, the party's chances of winning in November will be badly damaged and Dean will probably get blamed for not figuring out a solution to the whole mess sooner.

The debate on superdelegate decisionmaking is between urging them to reflect the outcome of their state primaries or caucuses, and allowing them to make their pick based on what they think is "best for the party." Wednesday, Dean issued a statement to the Talking Points Memo blog offering his take on the subject. To check out his statement, click HERE.

The key phrase in the statement was his remark that superdelegates should "exercise their best judgment in the interests of the nation and of the Democratic Party."

I saw where some pundit thought his view was somehow an indication he was pulling for Clinton, but there's also been speculation that if he could speak his mind, he'd be for Obama.

What do you think, and what do think will happen -- both in today's contests in Wisconsin and Hawaii, and down the road?

-- Sam Hemingway



Primarily speaking

When you go down to your city or town hall to vote in the presidential primary March 4, you will have the option of choosing which party's ballot you want. Before you do, I thought you should know your choice goes on your permanent record.

Poll workers mark which ballot you choose _ Democrat, Republican or Liberty Union (those are the only three with presidential primary ballots this year). Not who you voted for - that, of course, is quite private, but which party's primary you chose to take part in. The parties hold onto that information, as one of the few ways they have of compiling information about which voters lean their way.

In November, when you get blitzed with phone calls or mailings from a particular party while hearing virtually nothing from the others, this is how that party decided to target you. Your presidential primary vote put you on a list.

Making my way down State Street in Montpelier today, through the lake-sized puddles generated by this Delaware-like weather we're having, I ran into Secretary of State Deb Markowitz. It had been bugging me why this it is that this presidential primary info is public, so I asked her.

It's the result of a compromise reached some 15 years ago, she said. Vermont doesn't have registration by party, so the political parties wanted some way of ensuring that those who vote in their primaries are committed to them.

That commitment has a tangible payoff for the parties. Because Vermonters do not register to vote by party, as many other states do, it means the political parties in Vermont don't have an easy way of telling who's with them and who isn't. Their counterparts in New York merely have to call up the voter registration files, but here they have to scramble for every indication of which way Joe and Jo Voter lean.

If you donate to a candidate or a cause, they'll know something about your preferences, but otherwise, this bit of information about which ballot you chose in the presidential primary is key to their efforts of building voter profiles that let them target their campaign strategies.

In a sense, Vermont voters are fortunate that we don't have registration by party and a closed primary. Then, you'd be limited to voting in the primary of the party you were registered with. If you were independent-minded and didn't want to register with a party, you wouldn't get to vote in the primary at all.

OK, so our system is better than that, but wouldn't it be even better if the only thing that was recorded was that you voted, without any indication of how you voted?



Douglas on You Tube

That's right. Gov. Jim Douglas has a video clip on You Tube.

He's shown "working out" with some kids to promote his "Stretch Your Limits" challenge encouraging children to find fund ways to exercise. You can check the clip out here.

I guess the goal was to reach out to young people using a medium they frequent. One observer suggested, however, that this clip isn't likely to become "viral." So far -- 13 views and I count for two.

Now if Douglas really want to spread the word, he'd team up with Colin Arisman and Luke Martin -- you know the two Vermont kids who did the 802 Music Video. Then he would might reach a wider audience. Their video has been viewed 172,623 times as of Friday night. That's viral.

-- Nancy Remsen


Poll picture

With Vermont's March 4 presidential primary now starting to generate at least some puffs of wind out there on the political ocean, we're bound to see some polling numbers run up the mast any day now.

Everybody figures McCain's a sure bet on the Republican side and, to continue my lame metaphor here, it looks like it's clear sailing for Johnny-B-Good. On the Democratic side, it's a different matter. Barack Obama's believed to have the upper hand, even if his newly arrived staff in Vermont would have you believe Obama is the underdog to Hillary Clinton. But who rally knows when the last poll done in this state is now five months old.

Assume, however, that Obama is the leader in Vermont right now. If that's true and recent polling in the other three states having primaries that day holds up, Vermont will be the only place Obama wins on March 4. The newest polls in the three states have Clinton up 8 points in Rhode Island, up between 7 and 16 points in Texas and up between 14 and21 points in Ohio.

Pollsters, of course, have endured a series of embarrassments in the prediction department this year, and nothing's a sure bet during this epic, see-saw battle between the two leading Democrats. But maybe that's why Obama just decided to send way more ground troops to Vermont than anyone expected.

-- Sam Hemingway



Obama team hits town

News flash: Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama has deployed seven paid staff workers to Vermont to help the Illinois senator win the state’s March 4 primary.

Rob Hill, who worked for Obama in New Hampshire and Maine, will head up Team Obama in Vermont and says he plans to open up four storefront offices around the state. No word on whether he's got a TV advertizing budget or whether Barack himself will be dropping by before March 4.

Everybody with streak of punditry in their blood has been saying Vermont is Obama's for the taking, except for Mr. Hill, who protests that Hillary has the upper hand because she's so much better known and hails from the state across the lake.

"I think Clinton has a built-in advantage here and in all of the states remaining on the primary calendar," Hill told me Thursday. "She is so well known ... We’re going to be working to introduce Senator Obama to Vermont voters."¶

The move by Obama was not a surprise, but the number of Obama-ites being parachuted in here is. Just a couple of days ago, Vt. Democratic strategist and Obama supporter Carolyn Dwyer said she thought the campaign would send one, maybe two staffers to Vermont by the weekend.

No word from the Clinton front if she plans a counter move. Billi Gosh of Brookfield, a Clinton supporter and a Vermont Democratic National Committeewoman, told me this week that she has appealed to the campaign to send staff to Vermont.¶

-- Sam Hemingway


Taking the trophy

The energy bill passed without a flutter in the House on Wednesday, and then again on for final vote on Thursday. The vote was 136-2 on Wednesday. By Thursday, the opposition was down to 1.

Members of the House Natural Resources Committee were proud of their ability to win such broad-based support. They give a lot of credit to their chairman, Robert Dostis.

Thursday, they showed that big bestowing him with a trophy. One of those big, gaudy trophies you might win for taking the bowling championship or hauling in the largest bass.

He can take that trophy with him to the conference committee as the House and Senate hash out their differences over the bill, but it might not impress senators who think Dostis gave up too much to win over opponents.

Senators will fight to put the details of the energy-efficiency program in the hands of the Public Service Board instead of the Public Service Department, as they tend not to trust the department entirely.

Dostis is ready with his defense: The department designs the program and the board has authority over what the department does.

- Terri Hallenbeck


McCain's visit

John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, made an airport pit stop in South Burlington today to speak at rally attended by more than 400 folks.

The Arizonan appeared in good spirits, pretending to guzzle a bottle of maple syrup presented to him by Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie as Dubie welcomed the senator to Vermont. Speaking later about the evil of earmarks, McCain joked about the $3 million allocated to study the DNA of bears in Montana.

"I don't know if that's a paternity issue or a criminal issue, but it was your money," McCain declared as the crowd chuckled.

McCain, who was headed to Rhode Island later in the day, said he came to Vermont because he wants to "take the campaign everywhere" and hopes to "win next Tuesday's primary."
Reminded later by a reporter that Vermont's primary isn't until March 4 , he acknowledged the goof and said he was glad to be corrected before he got to Providence.

He also said he intended to come back to Vermont during the fall campaign if he's the nominee.

During his stump speech, he touched on his support for the war and for combatting climate change, saying on such a cold day as this, that term seemed more appropriate than "global warming." He said he supported making Bush's tax cuts permanent, dramatically reforming the tax code and chasing down Osama bin Laden even if it means following him to the "gates of hell."

McCain's speech lasted about a half hour.

-- Sam Hemingway


How many chairs does it take to .....

No offense, but I had to chuckle when I saw the announcement about the John McCain leadership team. It wasn't who was on it -- all important Republican leaders. It was their titles. How can you have so many people sharing the chairing?

Here's the lineup:


General Chair -- Gov. Jim Douglas
Honorary Co-Chair -- Lt. Governor Brian Dubie
Honorary Co-Chair -- Hon. Barbara Snelling, Former Lt. Governor & Former First Lady
Co-Chair -- Hon. Randy Brock, Former State Auditor
Co-Chair -- Chris Roy, Williston
Vice Chair -- Rep. Steve Adams, House Republican Leader
Vice Chair -- Hon. Walter Freed, Former Speaker of the House
Vice Chair -- Rep. Rick Hube, Former House Majority Leader
Vice Chair -- Anne McClaughry, Former VT Republican Party Vice Chair
Vice Chair -- Sen. Kevin Mullin, Asst. Senate Republican Leader
Veterans Chair -- Rep. Joe Krawzcyk

--Nancy Remsen



Clean slate

It's hard not to laugh out loud when you first spot the new look that Rep. David Zuckerman is sporting.

The "pony-tailed Prog" became the "bald-headed Burlington rep" this week. He raised about $3,000 and 35 inches of hair for chairty in the process.

Zuckerman sought per-inch pledges from the Statehouse crowd to raise money for four youth services organizations around Vermont. Enough money came in so that Zuckerman lost it all. Rep. Denise Barnard, the Richmond Democrat whose real job is as a hairdresser, did the honors Tuesday.

The 35 inches of hair will go to Locks of Love, an organization that provides hair for children with hair-loss diseases.

On the House floor Wednesday, Rep. Bud Otterman, R-Topsham, offered Zuckerman a ball cap with a main of hair attached "because he sure looks cold."

Oddly enough, Zuckerman said the new lack of 'do made his head sweat overnight. There's a lot about having a shaved head that takes some getting used to. His winter hat clings to his head in a sand-papery way. And people have a way of laughing out loud at first sight of it. He takes it well, though.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Vt. visitor

Faster than you can say John McCain, I was proven wrong on the issue of candidate visits to Vermont.

McCain, the Republican front-runner for the presidential nomination, will be in South Burlington at 11 a.m. Thursday, for a rally next to the airport. Word came this afternoon from his campaign aide, Jim Barnett, the former Vermont Republican Party chairman who latched onto McCain's campaign in the early days, survived a rough ride through the middle, and is flying high these days.

Gov. Jim Douglas will do the introducing and McCain will speak at the rally, which is open to the public.

Democrat Peter Galbraith, the one-time ambassador-turned-potential-candidate-for-governor, had some thoughts today about McCain's surge (pun intended) at the polls. Galbraith has a fair amount of expertise in Iraq, having taken up the issue of Saddam Hussein's genocide against the Kurds some years ago.

Galbraith said McCain's resurgence as a candidate for the Republican nominee has depended on the success of the troop surge in Iraq, and Galbraith's view is that that surge did not really work, and that that's beginning to show, with an increase in car bombs.

"Iraq is going down the tubes," he said. "The surge is beginning to fail."

His suggestion: McCain's timing has been fortuitous.

Galbraith, who was ambassador to Croatia in the Bill Clinton administration, is a Hillary Clinton supporter. He said he did not have the power to lure her to Vermont before the March 4 primary.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Don't mess with VT

If you listen to news reports about the upcoming March 4 presidential primaries, you don't hear a lot of mention about Vermont. They mention Texas, they mention Ohio. They don't mention Vermont or Rhode Island.

But alas, a national AP story on the topic does:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton
is counting on the almost-Super Tuesday primaries March 4 for another comeback,
as she and rival Sen. Barack Obama both begin ads in Texas and Ohio, the day’s
biggest prizes.
Barring an upset win for Clinton in the next five Democratic contests, she could well have suffered 10 straight defeats by the time Democrats begin voting March 4 in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont — the biggest single day left on the Democratic nominating calendar.


In Vermont, where voters will decide on 15 delegates, former state Rep. Mary Sullivan, an Obama supporter, has been looking for space to house an expected influx of workers as people in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New York call to volunteer.
Billi Gosh, a Vermont super delegate who supports Clinton, expressed frustration that her campaign has relied entirely on volunteers in Vermont and has yet to send in a staff worker. “We really need a staffer, and we need Bill or Hillary Clinton to come here,” she said.

If I were putting money on it I wouldn't bet we'll see any of the candidates live and in person. We might not even see any TV ads. We'd be cutting into their Texas and Ohio time.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Your $600

Most of you will be getting a check from the federal government for $600 this spring. It is what I would call no small chunk of change. Never mind that the federal government can't afford it, the economists tell us it will stimulate the economy.

I might put mine into our house repair fund, which I hope someday will be large enough to pay for actual house repairs if my husband and I can ever agree on what sort of repairs we should be making.

Phil Scott, the race-car/dump truck/bicycle driving state senator from Washington County, is not prone to legislative gimmickly, but he was a driving force behind a resolution the Senate passed this week urging Congress not to send the money to the people, but to pay instead for road and bridge projects.

Scott said he asked people in the community how they might spend their $600 tax rebate. Pay off debts, a few said. Put it away for a rainy day, others said. One said if it had come in time for the Super Bowl he'd have bought a new TV. Though some would argue this is stimulating the economy, it did not strike Scott as a sensible thing to do when the states are starving for highway money, which he argued would also provide construction jobs.

Scott's plan failed. Congress passed the stimulus package without a mention of the Vermont Senate's objections. You're going to get your $600, never mind that the federal government can't afford it.

What are you going to do with it and will it really stimulate the economy? (And no, you don't really need a new TV.)

- Terri Hallenbeck



Striking gold

Steve Gold, erstwhile state administrator who has toiled in a boatload of departments, including some that no longer exist, retired from state government last year.

He turned up today at the Statehouse, though.

He is back, working for the "other side," as it were. The Legislature's Joint Fiscal Office has hired him as a contractor to help lawmakers navigate a handful of issues, including the governor's proposal to reduce state jobs and efforts to reduce spending on Corrections.

Gold was once Corrections commissioner and more recently deputy secretary of Administration, both positions that should give him an inside track.

In a letter to Steve Klein, head of the Joint Fiscal Office, Gold said he'd chatted about his new role with all the people he used to work with and they were supportive.

He'll be paid $60 an hour for a maximum of $15,000 for work between now and May 1.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Trail mix

For your inspection, three items from the presidential campaign trail today:

1. Associated Press is reporting that Republican Mitt Romney is dropping out of the race, and the speculation is that this seals it for John McCain. Guess it was time for the Mittster to preseve the remainder of his children's inheritance. So is McCain got it, or does this mean Mike Huckabee gets all of Romney's voters and slows the McCain train down?

2. Howard Dean, your former governor and current chairman of Democratic National Committee, is quote as saying that having the Democratic presidential nomination contest go all the way to the convention without a victor would be a bad thing for his party. Click HERE for the clip. Jeez, I was thinking what a healthy thing this wide-open race was, for the Dems and the country. Was I wrong?

3. Sen. Patrick Leahy has just put out a mushy fundraising letter to Vermonters on behalf of Barack Obama, as if the fella from Illinois really needs the dough given the avalanche of cash he's been pulling down this week, $7 million since Tuesday. "Barack Obama represents the America we once were and want to be again," Leahy's letter says in part. You wonder, what did Hillary ever do to make Leahy embrace her opponent so emphatically.

-- Sam Hemingway



And then there was ...

Former state Sen. Matt Dunne announced Wednesday he won't be running for office in 2008. He had been considered a possible candidate for governor or lieutenant governor.

Dunne has some sort of thing that will occupy his time, but he said he can't say what it is just yet.

This did not come as a huge surprise. If Dunne was going to run, he probably would be doing it by now, or at least scouring the countryside for support.

That pretty much leaves Peter Galbraith as a possible Democratic candidate for governor against Republican Jim Douglas. Sen. Doug Racine told me a few weeks ago he won't run if it's a three-way race with Progressive Anthony Pollina, and Pollina says he's in the race.

It doesn't seem like Sen. John Campbell, the other Democratic that was on the list of possibles, is really planning to run.

Dunne said he supports Galbraith, thinks the relative outsider position the former diplomat holds can be beneficial and that thinks there's no hurry for him to make an announcement.

"I don't think there is a huge rush," Dunne said. "What Jim Douglas does very well other than campaign seven days a week, 365 days a year is paint people into a political corner. Peter Galbraith has the opportunity to see where Jim Douglas' values are and show himself as an alternative."

- Terri Hallenbeck


Super sign off

Thought I'd start a thread on people's reactions to the Super Duper Tuesday results.

A couple of thoughts to throw out.

1. Everybody thought John McCain would have it all wrapped up by last night. He will probably win the nomination, but it's not a done deal, and so our Vermont primary will be significant for the Republicans as well as the Democrats. Is McCain, who won the 2000 primary here, poised for a Vermont repeat on March 4?

2. If Mike Huckabee hadn't won Iowa, he might be gone by now, and with him not in the mix, Mitt Romney might well be the GOP frontrunner right now, given the fact that last night, his and Huckabee's votes in many states outnumbered McCain's by a mile.

3. Everyone says the 'mo is with Obama, but Hillary Clinton showed again that she's a very resilient candidate. The last poll on the race here, by WCAX in October, gave her 47 percent and Obama 15 percent. Everyone says Obama will win this state, but I'm not so sure.

-- Sam Hemingway




Eyeing March 4

In case you got to watching Tuesday's presidential primary results and started wondering if it's too late for Vermonters to register to vote in the March 4 primary, we're here for you.

It's not too late. The deadline is 5 p.m. Feb. 27.

Which is a lot more welcoming than the deadline New Yorkers faced for Tuesday's primary. Because it's a closed primary in New York (you have to register with a particular party to vote in that party's primary) and because you have to prove your allegiance to a party by having been in it before the last election, the deadline to register for the N.Y. primary was last October.

We, of course, don't have that party registration nonsense here in Vermont. You register to vote, you show up at the polls and you cast a ballot from one party or another.

- Terri Hallenbeck


GOP good news

The House Republican caucus celebrated some good news Tuesday -- and this group has needed some.

House Republican Leader Steve Adams returned to the House chamber after a month of sick leave while he recovered from heart surgery. He jumped right into action, speaking up in the morning's debate on a prescription drug bill. (Check out the debate in story that will be published Wednesday.)

Adams described his return as bittersweet because of the empty seat next to him. That's where the late Rep. Cola Hudson, R-Lyndonville, used to sit.

At least one individual from Hudson's legislative district was hanging around the governor's ceremonial office Tuesday morning, presumably for an interview. Gov. Jim Douglas will make the choice of who completes Cola's term. That individual was Howard Crawford, who represented the district with Hudson until a few years ago.

The other good news for the Republican caucus was reported on the floor by Rep. Donna Sweaney, D-Windsor. Her update concerned Rep. David Clark, R-St. Johnsbury, who was hospitalized last week. Sweaney visited Clark, who is a member of the House Government Operations Committee which she chairs. She said Clark looked better and was asking about the campaign finance bill, which the committee is working on.

The House Republican caucus will lose an eight-year veteran in March when Rep. Loren Shaw of Derby steps down. He's resigning because of the fulltime nature of his work as a motor coach driver. Douglas will have to select someone to fill out his term.

-- Nancy Remsen


Belly up

The Senate Economic Development Committee decided today it will hear more testimony on the idea of lowering the drinking age.

That's not to say the committee will endorse it. Chairman Vince Illuzzi said it's not something he's enthusiastic about, but the majority of the five-member panel said they'd like to hear more. The bill under consideration doesn't just flat out call for lowering the age. It calls for studying it over the summer.

This, of course, is an issue former Middlebury College President John McCardell is pushing. The committee has heard from him.

Is it an issue that has legs in the world at large?

Sen. Hinda Miller took some ribbing about her support for this bill and the one to decriminalize small amount of marijuana out. There were suggestions that her kids were pretty strong lobbyists.

Miller said it's her, not the kids, who wants to square street reality with the legal reality. Teenagers are drinking, she said, and they're doing it behind adults' backs, which is more dangerous than above-board drinking would be.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Savage takes a holiday

Andrew Savage, the young Calais native/Middlebury grad who helped Peter Welch win a seat in Washington and then followed him there, is taking a vacation in Utah.

Those of you who know Andrew might guess that he is skiing out there, but no, he's taking a busman's holiday.

Saavage is working for a few days as a spokesman for Barack Obama's campaign in Utah. He said this was something he wanted to do, not that Welch asked him to do. Too busy with the oolitics to even think about skiing.

Monday was a big day for the Obama Utah campaign - the candidate's wfe, Michelle, was visiting Salt Lake City, pinch-hitting for her husband (see photo above right). Savage said 1,000 people showed.

Utah is a Super Tuesday state, among a lump of 22 states holding primaries tomorrow. The Assocated Press assesses the state this way:

UTAH (Dems: 23; GOP: 36 WTA) Heavy Mormon population makes it
Romney’s. Democratic tossup.

From the Salt Lake Tribune the other day:

WASHINGTON - Sen. Barack Obama has canceled his visit to Utah in advance of
the state's presidential primary on Tuesday out of respect for the funeral
services of LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley.

The Illinois Democrat had been scheduled to visit Saturday, the same day as
Hinckley's funeral. Instead, the senator plans to send his wife, Michelle, to
stump for him on Monday, the day before Utah's primary. Because of previously
scheduled events, Barack Obama won't be able to make the trek to the state at
another time.

"Last night I spoke with President Thomas Monson and expressed my deepest
sympathies to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the passing of
President Gordon B. Hinckley," Sen. Obama said in a statement.

Monson is Hinckley's likely successor.

Obama spokesman Andrew Savage said his boss regretted he
couldn't make it to the state again.

"Sen. Obama was looking forward to returning to Utah since his August visit
and for the opportunity to meet and talk to the people of Utah again," Savage said. Still, the campaign is "taking Utah's primary very
seriously and plans to be very competitive on Tuesday."

Utah, of course, is "the reddest of red states," Savage said Monday afternoon by phone, but the Democratic primary is open to any Democrats or unaffaliated voters and Obama is attracting interest from some of those unaffiliateds. You'd expect the campaign's spokesman to say that.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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